Baseball TBT: Greatest Of All Time, 1 MVP

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    Updated: April 10, 2014
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    Recently I joined a Stratomatic baseball league where the only available players are Hall of Famers. The funny thing about this is that everyone involved is a well-adjusted grown man in a stable relationship (I know, I’m as shocked as you are). Because we’re selecting from the best of the best of the best (sir), I’ve been picking up gems about baseball’s greats that are just too good to keep to myself.  Throwback Thursdays (TBT) is here to educate you on the history of the game. 

    Babe Ruth is the single greatest baseball player who ever lived. Period. If you disagree, you’re wrong.

    He’s so good that he’s one of two guys (maybe three) in Stratomatic that can be drafted as a position player AND a pitcher – and he’s the only one whose stats are ridiculous as both (especially when you factor in that he’s a southpaw).

    If you need further proof, let’s check out a little stat called JAWS. 

    JAWS is the Jaffe WAR Score System, “developed by Jay Jaffe and introduced on Baseball Prospectus. 

    JAWS contains a combination of Career and 7-yr peak WAR totals allowing for comparison to average Hall of Famers by Position” (definition courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com). Even if you hate WAR (and I know I’m not alone in this), it does allow for objective selection of a player’s best seven years based on one statistic. A single season stat line is then compiled from the totals of those seven years.  Here’s how the Babe’s shakes out: 

    Player AB 2B 3B HR RBI Avg BB SO SB CS OBP SLG OPS
    Babe Ruth 517 36 9 50 148 0.375 145 79 11 11 0.514 0.771 1.285

     

    I’m not going to spoil this with words – just look at that line again. Go ahead, I’ll wait.  

    Fine, I am going to spoil it with words. This is what Ruth averaged over the seven best seasons of his career.

    To give you some perspective, the guy with next highest OPS on a seven year average is Ted Williams (don’t worry, we’ll cover Teddy Ballgame in another post) and it’s still 100 points lower than Ruth’s. Additionally, Ruth averaged – averaged (and I can’t emphasize or italicize that enough) – 50 homeruns a year over these seven years, which happen to be 1920, 1921, 1923, 1924, 1926, 1927, and 1930. Being the sports nerd that I am, I had to go back to baseball-reference.com and drool over all the numbers in those individual years. But as I did, I noticed something. 

    1923 – Babe Ruth wins the MVP. 

    1924 MLB Voting, AL MVP – Babe Ruth does not finish with a single vote: http://www.baseball-reference.com/awards/awards_1924.shtml#ALmvp 

    Now look at his 1924 stats: http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/r/ruthba01.shtml 

    Then I fully realized what I was seeing: in 1920, 1921, 1924, 1926, 1927, AND 1930, Babe Ruth received zero MVP votes.  None. 

    Ridiculous, right? I mean, I get that Walter Johnson had a great year in ‘24, and I know they didn’t have OPS back then to fully quantify what a monster the Sultan of Swat was, but did they really need it? The man hit .378 (leading the AL) and led both leagues with 46 home runs. I know the Babe wasn’t the most well-regarded guy, but was he really such a jerk that he managed to alienate the entire MVP voting committee?

    As it turns out, no. 

    The MVP award didn’t actually come into being until 1922 (though there had been an award prior to that from 1911-1914 that was roughly the same thing – you can read about the Chalmers Award here). Ruth didn’t win in ’22 mostly because he only played 110 games, but also because George Sisler hit .420 that year.

    It doesn’t matter that everyone was over the moon for batting average during that time and we’re now starting to devalue it as a statistic; you hit .420 for a season – regardless of era, circumstances, or competition – you deserve the hardware.

    Ruth promptly won MVP honors in 1923 and looks like he should have won at least four more, there was just one little catch. 

    Between 1922 and 1929, if you won an MVP award you were ineligible to win again. 

    Read that one more time and let me know if it makes sense, because I’d love someone to explain it to me.

    Needless to say, everyone thought it was a ridiculous rule, which resulted in the American League abandoning the award completely in 1929 (a “down” year for Ruth who posted a 46/154/.345 line that would have at least flirted with a second win).

     

    The National League followed suit in 1930. Thankfully in 1931, the Baseball Writers Association of America took it upon itself to distribute the MVP award, giving baseball fans one more thing to argue about for the next 83 years and counting. 

    I’ll save you researching the rest of the story, because from ’31 onward the years caught up with the Bambino, relatively speaking. Despite strong numbers, he just couldn’t match the competition.

     In 1931 Lefty Grove went 31-4 with a 2.02 ERA and gave up just 10 HRs over 288.2 innings, striking out nearly three times as many batters as he walked. In 1932 Jimmie Foxx won MVP honors when he clubbed 58 HRs, drove in 169 runs, and hit .364 (for comparison those numbers are close to – but not quite as good as – Ruth’s ’21 and ’27 seasons. 

    Foxx also never came within sniffing distance of Ruth’s best OPS marks). In 1933 Foxx repeated as MVP with a 48/163/.356 line, and in 1934 Ruth’s career was circling the drain. By 1935, it’d dried up completely. 

    So there you have it – how the single greatest player to ever put on cleats only won 1 MVP.  Another time, maybe we’ll talk about how the most consistent homerun hitter (that never used steroids) in Major League history also only managed 1 MVP.

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